It’s that time of year when photography websites and magazines start publishing “gift lists” of stuff that will supposedly improve your photography. This is kinda like that, but not. If you REALLY want to improve, read the rest below.
I’m a strong believer in education, especially hands on, intensive, feedback driven education. For my money there is really no way, short of interning with a skilled photographer or artist, to more deeply develop your skills and eye. This summer was my second time taking Connie Imboden’s workshop on The Human Form and as before it was a transformative experience. The Maine Media Workshops offer a wide range of classes and workshops, most of them geared toward developing a specific skill set, but The Human Form is different. Connie spends little time on technique- if you are looking for a class on how to light the nude, this is not it! Instead she focuses on developing student’s vision through a series of exercises. Sessions such as “line” and “visual metaphor” are designed to change how you “see”. Each morning is spent in critique of everything (and I mean everything) shot the day before while afternoons are spent shooting. The sessions can be frustrating, exhausting and sometime maddening but in the end it all comes together in a new artistic vision. This is some of what I managed to produce.
What I find incredibly interesting is that while the style of these photographs is nothing like how I typically work, making them has had an impact on my art back in the studio. Once you learn how to see something differently, it translates into other projects sometimes in unexpected ways. I’m going to keep returning to these types of exercises on occasion. Someone in the class likened it to musicians playing scales. In order to get really good at something complicated, you have to regularly return to the basics.
So if you are looking to improve your art and photography, I strongly suggest attending a workshop like Connie’s. Maine Media is a great institution, but look for more local alternatives if it better suits your time and money budget. Speaking of which, let’s take a quick look at a workshop’s value. Most are around $1000 for one week. Throw in $500-800 for lodging and with travel, food and extras you’re looking at $2000 for a 7 day class. While $2000 is a lot of money, it’s fairly typical for what a high end camera body or lens would cost. Which do you think would improve your photography more- the equipment or the instruction? Most classes meet for at least 8 hrs/day, plus you often spend time at meals with the instructor and your fellow students- all times when you can learn something! So if you figure ~70 hrs total for the workshop, you end up paying about ~$28/hr. Now ask yourself, if you could pay your favorite photographer or artist $28/hr to be your personal tutor, would you do it?
Lucas James is a fine art photographer based in Manchester, NH.